Insights from Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise
Insights often originate with films and books. The really good stories and characters become touchstones or stay with me like familiar old friends.
So, on this, my 11th anniversary of blogging (yes, Happy Anniversary dear readers, it all began here February 3, 2007), I’d like to encourage all to find and watch the soul-stirring documentary Catching Sight of Thelma and Louise.
Insights — from what shapes our identity and behaviors to what keeps women from asserting themselves — will rain down on you as you take in the stories and reactions that emerged following the debut of the 1991 film Thelma and Louise. (In hindsight I wish I’d had the good sense to bring a notebook to record them all.)
You will be touched and mesmerized by what the film reveals. I had the pleasure of meeting the filmmaker, Jennifer Townsend, following a film screening at the Napa Valley Film Festival last November. The backstory on what led her to make the film may sound familiar:
“All I knew was that this film [Thelma and Louise] had affected me in a profound way. Even now I find that words do not fully capture this sensation. I had never seen a film where women exuded so much power. They had ‘slain the dragon’. They were forces to be reckoned with. Even in the face of death, they refused to surrender.”
The Thelma and Louise film in 1991 became the genesis for a research project. Townsend solicited reactions wherever she could. She reached far and wide for participation using an open-format questionnaire. Now, mind you, in 1991 there was no Internet — only newspaper ads, press releases, snail mail, landlines and answering machines. The response to her call for reactions was impressive and the insights rich.
It is worth noting that it was disconcerting to view Townsend’s film on the eve of the #MeToo movement. It’s painful to acknowledge that as far as we’ve come since 1991 women in 2018 still need a movement to call attention to harassment and abuse.
What made my viewing of Townsend’s film more riveting and special was that I saw it with my Thelma. Longtime readers (and those familiar with Silent Sorority, the book) will know that I’ve written about my friend Jane over the years. Like the characters in the film we have challenged and exasperated one another. We have also helped each other out of more than a few jams. We’ve laughed and cried and shared insights and helped each other grow.
If you have a Thelma or a Louise in your life, give them a call, and find a screening. The next available will be in New York City on March 10 @ 11:30am. Once you’ve seen it, by all means share your thoughts. You’ll be blown away at the cultural pressure on women not to rock the boat. If you’re anything like the viewers who have mailed, taped (or in more recent years) emailed and commented on Townsend’s blog, you’ll join a rich community of voices.
And, if you’re like me, you’ll also find insights and parallels to the pervasive social biases that exist about womanhood more broadly. (More on this soon once I wrap the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale.)
Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you I also felt a kinship to Townsend. I reveled in her ability to tap into a ‘shared experience’ phenomenon. I completely understood what she meant when she described feeling something fundamentally shift in her world.
I think back 11 years ago this evening when I first ventured online….
Confused and misunderstood I hoped there might be one person who could validate my infertility experience. A kind soul who would ease my sense of isolation in not being able to conceive. An understanding reader who could appreciate my out-sized resentment at the difficulty of mourning my barren womb while the Mommy Movement exploded on the scene. My deep sense of loss, of yawning pain. And there you all were full of big hearts and kind compassion. Soon my misfit-like experience felt less alien.
So tonight I raise a glass to you, dear readers. I thank you.
p.s. And if you’d like to hear more about what it means to experience a fundamental shift, tune in to this discussion between me and Cathy. I listened to it again yesterday and realized the power of ‘twinship’ that Dr. Marni Rosner studied all over again.